Appellate Judge Tom Becker thinks only you can prevent witch fires.
Do you believe?
College professor Norman Taylor (Peter Wyngarde, The Innocents) is the envy of his colleagues. He's young, successful, has a beautiful wife named Tansy (Janet Blair, Boys' Night Out), and is line for a coveted department head position.
But the levelheaded Norman is appalled when he discovers that Tansy has been practicing witchcraft. She believes that her conjuring has protected them and contributed to his success, but Norman scoffs at this. So Norman has Tansy gather up the various talismans and artifacts she's collected, and they burn them. But rather than restoring sanity, it seems that Norman has inadvertently conjured up a demon.
An old school, slow-boil, British suspenser, Burn, Witch, Burn is an effectively creepy film that mixes psychological horror with a tale of the supernatural. While the film contains a fair share of full-on shocks, it mainly relies on the kind of subtle, suggestive horror of a Val Lewton production.
The film opens with a cute gimmick: over a black screen, a narrator offers an incantation to keep the audience safe from evil powers. Rather than continuing in this sort of trick-heavy, William Castle-esque vein, the film is a straightforward, eerie tale of incipient horror. Writers Charles Beaumont and Richard Matheson—who adapted Fritz Leiber's novel Conjure Wife—were veterans of The Twilight Zone, and it shows; Burn, Witch, Burn could have easily been an expanded episode of that iconic series.
The focus is on non-believer Norman; when the film opens, he is lecturing students about superstition, the words "I Do Not Believe" featured prominently on his blackboard. Man of logic that he is, Norman stubbornly refuses to entertain his wife's foray into the black arts and sets out to disabuse her of the notion that there is anything supernatural associated with their lives.
But Norman is "rational" to the point of being oblivious. Tansy's been collecting all manner of artifacts—including a dead spider and earth from graves—that she's been using to combat what she believes to be evil forces. Not only is he unaware of his wife's activities, he also seems ignorant of that rather mundane—though no less nasty—politics at his college.
Could Tansy be right? It seems so, considering the misery Norman encounters once he has Tansy destroy her artifacts. Of course, this could just be a run of extremely bad luck. But Tansy's convinced otherwise, and the desperate measures she takes to ensure Norman's safety puts them both on a collision course with horror.
Director Sidney Hayers (Circus of Horrors) eschews quick thrills and gives the story a slow build, with "clues" about what is really going on sprinkled throughout and disturbing, satisfying climax. Wyngarde is excellent as Norman, and Blair matches him every step of the way as the occult-obsessed Tansy.
The disc is from MGM's "on demand" line of DVD-Rs. It sports a decent transfer and an acceptable mono audio track. The only supplement is a trailer. As with the other "on demand" titles being offered by MGM and Warner Archives, it's great to have this somewhat obscure film available, but it would be even greater to have a few supplements, particularly some background on Wyngarde, whose career suffered due to some personal scandals in the '70s.
It's a little early for Halloween, but this chilly British entry is made for a cool autumn night. Keep it in mind when you're making your "31 Days of Horror" list in October.
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